Outside Capital Centre's downtown office yesterday, a crowd of about 75 pushed and pressed against the windows, clamoring for a look at the Washington Bullets' second-round draft pick, Manute Bol, the 7-foot-6, 198-pound center from Sudan.
Inside, Bol answered questions softly, batted his eyes, hung his head and smiled demurely at whatever was said to him.
This man may one day reject Moses Malone's shots, but yesterday he didn't reject even the oddest of the questions tossed in his direction.
Whatever Bol may become -- fearsome shot-blocker or forgotten flop -- for now he is a spectacle, guaranteed to draw a crowd of gawkers.
"What tribe are your ancestors from?"
"Do you have ice cream in Sudan?"
"Can you answer that in Arabic?"
Bol spent the last year studying and playing at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and this summer is playing for the Rhode Island Gulls of the U.S. Basketball League.
For now, the fascination is not with his basketball but with his height, his lack of weight and his homeland.
"People don't think we have a lot of things in Sudan," said Bol. "We do have ice cream."
Bullets owner Abe Pollin, who has recently traveled to Bol's region, greeted Bol warmly.
"It's good to have you aboard," Pollin said. Then he got down to business, asking about a reported native custom. "Did you drink the milk mixed with blood like they do there?"
"No," said Bol, "I never heard about that."
When the staring is done, the business at hand is basketball.
"I'm happy to be down here in Washington," Bol said, looking toward the floor. "I hope I'll play here."
With that, he smiled, donned a Bullets cap, smiled, held a Bullets jersey marked with his name and No. 10 to his chest, smiled, and posed next to a Bullets measuring stick.
Bol, who has not signed a contract, visited three doctors yesterday morning before making his appearance.
Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said the team has not decided whether Bol will play in Europe next year but announced that Fred Carter, whose replacement of Bernie Bickerstaff as assistant coach was made official yesterday, will work with Bol for the remainder of the USBL season.
"Fred's going to go back and forth and work with him on his game and his diet," Ferry said. "Other than (the possibility of) injury, I don't think his weight's a problem. Of course, we'll take any (additional) weight he can get.
"I saw him play his first game with the Gulls and then I saw him two weeks later. He'd just improved so much. I don't think there's a limit to his defensive ability provided he gets a chance to develop."
Carter has not seen Bol play in person yet. He has, however, seen him stand next to the Boston Celtics' Kevin McHale, who is 6-10.
"He made Kevin McHale look like a small forward," said Carter.
But how will this incredibly thin man compete with someone like the Philadelphia 76ers' Malone on a basketball court?
"There are two sides to that coin," said Carter. "For the first time, big players are going to be going against someone taller than them. It will be like me going against Bill Russell. For the first time those guys are going to be trying to post up against someone bigger than them."
Bol, who was averaging 16.3 points, 15.5 rebounds and 12 blocked shots through 13 games with the Gulls, said he is not so much concerned about the players in the NBA as he is about his own ability.
"I'm working at it," he said. "People say I have to eat and lift weights. I don't know why people always ask about gaining weight. You can't gain weight in a day."
About 35 minutes after the crowd outside had gathered, the onlookers decided to try their luck and began cheering and motioning for Bol to stand or come outside.
"Come on outside, Manute," said Pollin, beckoning. Bol looked down, shook his head slightly at first and then rose and followed Pollin outside.
On the sidewalk stood a portable basketball goal, and Bol, who probably has yet to decline a request, stood flat-footed and dunked the ball.